When you're stuck in a rut and dreading each day of work, a change of career seems to be the answer. The grass looks greener and the sky bluer. But is it? These ten crucial questions, answered honestly, will help you to think it through, evaluate your position and view the prospect with a steady gaze.
1. Why do you want to change?
Be clear about why you want to leave so that you don't jump out of the frying pan and into the fire. In my experience as a career and life coach, the most common reasons are:
- You've been there too long and you're bored and stuck
- You're no longer interested in the subject or the work
- You're undervalued
- Reorganisation and restructuring have changed your role
- You're making no progress
- You're too young to sit it out until you retire
- You don't get on with your co-workers or your manager
- A general need for change (some people need the stimulus of change in their lives more than others).
2. Do you really want to change career?
Think about whether it really is your career that you want to change. Be very specific about what you do and don't like about your current work - it may be your role, your boss, the working environment or your terms and conditions. Think about exactly what would make your working life more enjoyable. Make sure you explore all your options and don't rush the process. You may find that you can make a change in a less drastic way, for example:
- Finding another job in the same sector (i.e. at another University or College if you are an academic)
- Change sector (for example, move from the academic to the private sector/industrial research, the charity sector)
- Modify your existing job (by going part-time and pursuing another interest, moving sideways, finding a secondment opportunity or getting involved in another project).
3. What kind of work do you want to do?
You may already have a good idea of what you want to do. Answering the first two questions may have helped clarify your needs. Now think about what your ideal job would entail on a day-to-day basis, for example:
- less paperwork and admin
- working with different kinds of people, fewer people or in a team rather than on your own
- more or less direction, micro-management or support
- more outdoor work, more or less travelling
- working from home
- working more flexibly
You may be able to negotiate these changes within your role at present. Your boss or manager may be able to help you with your problem, but you could make it easier for both of you if you already have some realistic and practical ideas. If you have an idea, write it down and approach your boss with it. Don't forget to include any benefits for your manager or the institution/organisation.
4. What are your skills and capabilities?
Think about your transferable skills and capabilities, aside from the specific subject or job area, for example:
- organisational skills
- detailed research work
- fundraising knowledge and ability
- people skills
- ideas and getting initiatives off the ground.
5. Do you want to use your existing skills and capabilities?
You may be thinking that you want a complete change, away from everything, but be sensible. Think about other roles or jobs where you can use the knowledge, skills and capabilities that you have built up. Talk to the people you work with to find out if there are opportunities associated with your work: suppliers, fellow project members or members of a professional association, if you belong to one, may give you ideas to explore. Sideways moves, consultancies and poacher-turned-gamekeeper jobs may be suitable.
6. What are you interested in?
When you're thinking about a new career, be sure that it is something you really are interested in. It may be that although your reasons for moving are financial, a fat salary may not be enough to keep you interested. The money may be right but remember that you will be doing this job day in day out. Does the remuneration offer enough of an incentive?
7. What are your values?
Even if you don't think that you have particularly hard-held values, you may be surprised - a disconnect between your everyday activity and what you believe in can be very uncomfortable. For instance, an academic who moves into a fast-paced commercial environment may find the bottom-line, profit-making approach and the way it affects every part of the work unacceptable. On the other hand, someone moving into academic life from the commercial sector may have difficulty with the gentler, less targeted approach of institutional life. Explore your values. Examples are:
- doing good
- making a difference
- recognition for hard work and enterprise
- status and importance (don't tell yourself it doesn't matter - it does! You may be able to deal admirably with working under a manager who is younger, and less experienced than you are. Even so, it's worth thinking about.)
- being free to work without commercial constraints.
8. Are you prepared to retrain or start from the bottom again?
Of course, if you are already committed to a complete change, you will need to think of the implications for you and your family. You may have to start from square one again and live with all the consequences of that such as lack of status and lack of money!
9. How much money do you need to make?
Crucial! Are you prepared to drop your income level? Take a long hard look at you current finances and write it all down: outgoings, income, extra expenses. See where you can make cuts and get a very clear idea of exactly how much money you need to make over a year. Then do the same with any enterprise, new position or job.
10. Will you regret it if you don't?
The saying goes that you only regret what you didn't do. In two years time, five years time or 10 years time, will you regret not having made a change?